A comeback journey to remember for Punahou’s Malia Dickhens

Step by step, Malia Dickhens has recovered from an injury that kept her sidelined for more than a year. The Punahou senior won the ILH 800-meter run last spring and, on Saturday, placed first in the season-opening ILH cross country meet at ‘Iolani. Paul Honda/phonda@staradvertiser.com.

Patience is the difference for athletes on the mend.

Malia Dickhens’ shin splints led to a stress fracture and as much recovery through cross-training as imaginable.

“The stress fracture started March of 2020 and pretty much ended last month,” the Punahou senior said.

In today’s edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Dickhens shared her long road back to competition. She won the ILH cross country championship as a sophomore in the fall of 2019. After miles of swimming and cycling (on a stationary bike), Dickhens returned last spring to win the ILH 800-meter title.

“It wasn’t fully recovered. I wasn’t doing the distance runs or workouts. It was tough,” she said.

This fall, with more recovery behind her, Dickhens was at “90 or 95 percent” as she won the first ILH cross country meet of the fall season last Saturday. Her time was 18 minutes, 22 seconds as her teammate and cross-training pal Izzy Ford ran by her side for much of the way.

For Dickhens, each day is worth a celebration after 18 months of pain. Placing first in a tough field of ILH runners sets quite a tone for the entire league.

“I was really excited. I was going into the race with no expectations. I didn’t want to stress myself out, but I had been feeling good the week before the race,” she said.

Dickhens’ first sport was soccer when she was 5. She also competed in surfing beginning at 10.

“I didn’t start prioritizing running until ninth grade. If there’s good waves, I’ll still go out and try to have fun. For competitive surfing, I miss the traveling. Going to nationals in San Clemente (Calif.) was fun. Most of the competitions were around Oahu,” she said.

“Soccer, I played through middle school for Leahi (Soccer Club). That’s how my mom (Keala) knew I should do cross country. I kind of miss the (soccer) games a little bit because they’re fun. What I like about cross country is it feels like every day, we’re doing something 100 percent of the time, not just drills.”

The camaraderie. The pasta dinners on the eve of races. The bagel topped by cream cheese early in the morning before the run. The lifestyle. Dickhens loves it more than ever.

“Hanging out with all my friends makes me like cross country again,” she said. “It’s the shared pain. We definitely always push each other and everyone wants everyone to improve. It’s a competition, but it’s also working together to make each other better.”

Malia Dickhens’ lockdown staples

Top 3 movies/shows

1. “Surf’s Up”

2. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”

“It’s a really wholesome movie and the location is really nice. It’s about seeking adventure and making the most of your life.”

3. “Divergent”

“It’s a dystopian society one.”

Top 3 food/snacks/drink

1. Ahi poke.

“I like getting it from Pupukea Grill on the North Shore. I like spicy ahi. I like it with limu. I like to go to the beach on the North Shore a lot.”

2. Pasta (spaghetti).

“Mostly at home with the cross country team or my family. I like ground turkey.”

3. Fruit.

“I like all fruits. Good source of carbs before a race and very tasty. I like pineapple. I make smoothies for breakfast. Yogurt, fruit, some spinach.”

Top 3 music artists

1. Frank Ocean – “Sweet Life.”

2. Pop Smoke – “Element.”

3. Mac Miller – “Knock Knock.”

GPA: unweighted 3.96.

“I’m not sure what it would be weighted. I’ve taken a lot of (honors) classes. I like the harder classes. It makes school more fun and interesting, I think.”

New life skill: coffee making.

“I do have a new hobby of making coffee because I worked as a Starbucks barista over the summer. The opportunity was there and I found out I like making coffee. I do drink a lot of it. Every day, definitely. Caffeine is said to improve endurance, so I justify it. I really like the nitro-cold brew coffee. I really like latte. It just depends on my mood whether I want something sugary. They all taste different, but I don’t mind.”

Shout outs

“I just want to thank all my teammates, all my coaches, all my family. Without my teammates, I wouldn’t like cross country as much. All the fun moments that make race days so worth it. I’m super thankful to have a super fun and close team. I’m definitely going to miss everybody when I go off to college.”


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